CORONAVIRUS 2020: UPDATE OF THE ANTHROPOS SYSTEM

Or the delicate art of contactless hands-free connection. A reflection on the world after COVID-19

By Guila-Clara Kessous, PhD, Harvard University
Edited by Kyra Johnson

Peter M. Friess
A screenshot from CORO1, a visionary interpretation of the COVID-19 realized by Brussels-based Conceptual Digital Artist PETERMFRIESS based on the LAMAφ improvisation ensemble. Watch it on our #CreativityWillSaveUs Series HERE. For more info about PETERMFRIESS click here: www.petermfriess.com.

As the world continues to undergo the effects of the coronavirus in all aspects of life, it becomes necessary to recognize what a post-COVID world looks like, as well as to consider it to be a sort of separator of space and time. Such a world-altering event, after all, is so extreme and drastic that it reflects an almost messianic importance. 

Imagining oneself in a post-coronavirus future is already to recognize the pandemic’s role as a separator of space-time. After all, aren’t we in 2020 AD, or even 1441 A.D., 1441 Hegira, Chinese 4718, or 5780 in the Jewish calendar, to name but a few? All these calendars base their point of departure, the year 1, on a founding event which radically separates the coming era from the preceding one. Most importantly, the new era also “updates” the cultural, territorial, social, behavioural, and economic system. We now must seek out a global meaning in all civilizations, which comes from a posteriori to the event since the year zero does not exist. We therefore begin to count long after the event, which only takes on its meaning once we choose its meaning. Therefore, in the current case of COVID-19, we are still in the year zero. Let us try to see what societal norms we are radically leaving behind in order to go towards year one, Post-COVID, and what this new era of ours will potentially look like. 

Another screenshot from CORO1 by PETERMFRIESS

Turning to a New Sun

In our society prior to the coronavirus, human beings shared in the tropism—the natural turning towards an external stimulus–exhibited by many plants; we are like sunflowers, following the rays of the stimuli we have grown accustomed to in order to support our own social growth. What we are leaving to go into the Post-COVID world is above all an anthropological tropism that acted as an irresistible and unconscious force, a reflex behavior that seemed so natural to us.  This behavior that seemed so natural to us and pushed us to use all of our five senses fearlessly in our relationship with others is now absent in lieu of our inability to psychically reach out. Whether they were close or unknown to us, accepting the other meant bringing them into our social “spheres”: the professional sphere, the family sphere, the personal intimate sphere. Each of these spheres has required some sort of a contact greeting. This human-to-human “recognition” seemed so natural to us–whether it was a kiss, handshake, or hug–that it had become a tropism. 

We collectively failed to realize how physical contact norms may endanger us if we had to consider the other or oneself as “potentially contagious”. In the face of the virus, us metaphorical sunflowers are forced to find a new type of sun to turn to in order to achieve and maintain our social growth.

For example, this “new sun” is already somewhat adopted by Asian cultures, where it is custom to avoid touching each other during greetings, particularly in China, where salutations are exchanged at a distance, with heads bowed. We are therefore encouraged to follow the Chinese example in our professional spheres, where even prior to the pandemic, physical exchanges were rarely intimate, and are therefore the most appropriate type of contact greeting to undergo procedural changes in our Post-COVID Year One. The choice of the “elbow” salutation (widely remembered as the “Ebola Shake” salutation, born during the Ebola epidemic) is appropriate, and even already common, in several cultures. What does this mean in terms of anthropological tropism of finding a new stimulus in which to grow from? We would orient our physical interactions to a much more “Asian fashion”: less touching, interruptions, and emotions, and more observation, silence, and neutrality. Adopting foreign greetings may lead us to culture shock, and feelings of “Fear and Trembling” may await us in this “Asia-tization” of our methods of greeting, and perhaps even our modes of societal functioning.

Another screenshot from CORO1 by PETERMFRIESS.

Learning from Porcupines: A New “Hands Free” Connection

If we cannot enjoy our typical experiences of physical contact anymore, does this mean that we all need to find an “inner warmth” to replace what no longer comes from others? This is what philosopher  Arthur Schopenhauer recommended in his famous parable of the porcupines in “Parerga and Paralipomena”, in which he used this group of animals to explain the paradox of human contact. During a frosty snowstorm, the porcupines huddled together in tight-knit groups to keep warm, but ultimately suffered from each other’s sharp prickles, since they were too close together.  They were forced to find a “medium distance” where they could benefit from their collective warmth yet avoid harming others with their spikes. Schopenhauer then writes: 

“Thus the need for society, born of the emptiness and monotony of their inner life, pushes people towards each other; but their many unsympathetic ways and unbearable defects scatter them again. The average distance they eventually discover and at which living together becomes possible is politeness and good manners.”
Arthur Schopenhauer

What we come to understand from this example is that, during this pandemic, we must learn how to benefit from one another’s metaphorical warmth while still keeping our distance, as the infectious disease has become our own set of sharp spines that could damage others, should we fail to maintain a proper distance. Would we have failed in the principle of “politeness” by abruptly changing our socially “average distance” into a brand-new “sanitary distance”? There are no more possible contacts to fall back on once the pandemic has passed, because it is the aggregation of the whole system that is changing. The anthropological system described by Arthur Schopenhauer assumed that groups of humans push towards each other by aggregates “born from the emptiness and monotony of their inner life”. But does this kind of emptiness still exist today? In accordance with our metaphor, the quills of porcupines have grown and become a type of interconnected network of antennas that connect without contact, as if their exchange of bodily warmth is done virtually–it is “hands-free”. 

Check out the Porcupines & Schopenhauer Story @illacertus Youtube Channel – Animated book summaries focusing on strategy, power & seduction with a flair for history & how you can use the knowledge within today to further your own cause.

This is the basis of our real-world rapidly expanding Internet connectivity, with intelligent underground, underwater, aerial and space smart grids… 5G obliges! The interconnected system of porcupines that gathered together to keep warm symbolically evolved to become an emanation of our own individual social antennas. We each radiate our own quills that serve as a protective “crown”–which, strangely enough, looks similar to the shape of the coronavirus when viewed under an electron microscope. These antennas are also our ways of relating to each other. This explains why we are able to have hundreds of friends on Facebook without ever actually meeting them in person. In 1992, anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggested that 150 was the maximum number of people with whom we could maintain stable social relationships, so as not to exceed the maximum size allowed by the information processing capacity of our brain. Humans have an incredible capacity to connect, but this pandemic creates a blockage for us to demonstrate our typical human warmth. When “emptiness” no longer exists outside, it is reborn inside us via a “lack of oxytocin”, which is the hormone of love, trust and bonding created through physical contact (such as caresses, kisses, etc.). We are about to live through an incredible moment of withdrawal where our only option to remain hyper-connected is to use social media platforms, where we can engage in a sort of “hands-free” style of interaction (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and TikTok, among others). But is keeping this mode of “no contact” relationships, truly without risk of contamination? It may present a dangerous “Zoom-ification” of our world where others only appear in two dimensions, “framed” in a relationship controlled by a “power” button that you just have to press once for others to disappear.

Another screenshot from CORO1 by PETERMFRIESS.

The Return of “Courtesy”

This “love from afar” that we must now practice is reminiscent of the ballads of “courtly love” that were sung by  William IX of Aquitaine “Roman de la Rose”  and the troubadours (traveling poets) of the twelfth century. In this medieval context, songs describe the object of love: the rose; and the woman, the object of wooing, is far away, but one must surpass the presented obstacles in order to fulfill their conquest. In our non-medieval context: less oxytocin hormone, therefore, equates less touching, yet provides more dopamine, the hormone of success. A “setting far away”, which is the new distant location of individuals in our lives, allows us to rework the path that leads to others. This medieval approach to human connection seems very outdated. 

On the contrary, the practice of working through obstacles to achieve our object of interest is anchored deep within us, in what we are desperately trying to find again during this time: a rediscovered physical closeness with our companions and an ambition to take on a brand new, albeit mysterious, future. a brand new future.

The term “courtesy” does not force us to return to feudalistic style, but allows us to rethink our “porcupine” social system on a human scale–that is to say, we must insert ourselves into metaphorical “courtyards”: small bordered spaces in which a finite number of individuals who share common values reside as a community. Taking residence in these spaces is not advocating for the return of the aristocracy, or the feudal reign of the King and his Court, but rather, it is to set up each individual to have the capacity of a “power” button; not to make others entirely disappear, but to simply make them leave their screen, like Tom Baxter in Woody Allen’s film  “The Purple Rose of Cairo”. We have the ability to be aware of the collective world, thanks in particular to the analysis grid of the 17 Sustainable Development objectives adopted by the UN in 2015, and the credo of the platform of action for the coronavirus, set up in mid-March by the World Economic Forum in Davos. We know what we have to do, but we don’t do it yet… even if we hear many people say that, despite the difficulty of containment, what we will regret most is this long period of time when we could have “settled down” for a moment before returning to the frenzy of active life. This is the principle of the “JOMO” (the “Joy Of Missing Out”). This joy celebrates disconnection from an idealized world in order to concentrate on real life, on our truly important relationships without feeling fearful under the gaze of others.

Another screenshot from CORO1 by PETERMFRIESS.

Towards Optimistic Leadership  

What about business in our “professional sphere”? In comparison to the familial sphere, it is not the one that is most naturally useful to society, but it is probably the one that has the most responsibilities in terms of helping everyone “hold it together”. In Latin, “Entre-prehendere” means “to take in one’s hands”, and “to take the risk” of creating something valuable that is beyond financial gain. This is where the “courtyard” that the company represents is so important since it must recreate a will to create, share, and co-construct together, and to bring water to the metaphorical mill of society so that the economy can turn. Just as an individual struggles with the idea of death at the sound of a cough, a company thinks it is finished when it sees its sales drop during the last two months. However, they are far from being finished.

Just like the individual, if companies take on the responsibility to not contaminate and not be contaminated, they enter a phase of change in accordance with what the virus has taught us: how to resist by breathing. To continue to breathe in spite of the miasma of this virus means to, against all odds, feed on the air of others and accept that it may be necessary to empty oneself of their own air so that another can feed on it.

This circulation of air must take place in a healthy environment, between healthy individuals, for a healthy purpose. The return of deconfinement in the workplace should aim to achieve this healthy system at the managerial level: leaders must regain the health of the collective through a narrative sense. Telling a story of survival is crucial in terms of resilience. And for that, the leader’s communication is essential at both the verbal and non-verbal level. When presenting content, a leader must make the choice of using positive, unifying, hope-creating words, but above all,  they must be transparent with the situation, for that will make the difference. Far too many leaders would like to apply the perception of the pre-COVID to the post-COVID era by making people believe that nothing has happened. On the contrary, it is by underlining the difficulties undergone during this time of collective survival, and by detailing the different steps to follow going forwards, that unity will be able to motivate the team. This is what the “optimistic” leader should look for, to use the ideas of the famous Tal Ben Shahar, professor of “happiness” (a form of positive psychology) at Harvard University, in his book The Happiness of Being a Leader: a clever mix of optimism and realism. The leader must go beyond their bodily barriers. It is their own body, which has been denied so much in the virtual relationship, that they will have to re-inhabitat. This will show how the leader will be judged, measured, and despised, and if they can be followed. For the body does not lie and when one is the image of power in a company, it is the body that reveals its weaknesses, impostor syndrome, or megalomaniacal impulses.

Another screenshot from CORO1 by PETERMFRIESS.

Even the newly named “coronial” generation of babies coming from this era (including X Æ A-12, the aptly named newborn of Elon Musk) have a body, which is what remains to us as irreducibly fragile and therefore “human”. So let us become guards of our own body by not listening to those who want to amputate it under the narrative of reinforcing our performance with “painkillers” and “anti-epileptics” by inhibiting nerves or by cutting off our sensitivity where it hurts. In medicine, just as in business, we should be wary of symptomatic treatments that would create a Guillain-Barré syndrome, a consequential fallout suffered by many people who have been ill with corona: a loss of sensation that can lead to paralysis of the extremities (hands/feet). In a company, it is necessary to look at how the virus was experienced by all the employees, offering at all levels (from “feet” to “hands”) not only spaces for words, but real possibilities to integrate and collaborate “in the common courtyard” with real recognition–without such an approach, it would lead to a paralysis of the company’s whole collective body . “Stop applauding us and come and put your hands in the sludge instead,” a doctor said to me the other day. He didn’t necessarily mean making a medical commitment, but contributing in some way to ensuring that there is a dedication to relieving the harshness of daily life, each at one’s own level. What can be said about what awaits us in the post-COVID era is a real human question that searches for meaning and involvement at the individual level. 

This shared sense that we all have within us is a voice that guarantees the survival of our species and tells us to “do and play our part” as if we are an orchestra with an infinite number of instruments. Our song would be an uproar that is certainly very powerful because of its resonant force but would have no collective melody and even less unison.

At the moment, the system of the world has just been updated and unifying platforms, such as TikTok’s viral trends, have an impressive capacity to be its own type of virus and spread the same pantomime repeated across the continents as if it is a domino effect of one following after another.The virtual spread of ideas is a unifying force that helps us expand our perception of the world as a whole. Contrastingly, however, Voltaire’s satire Candide tells us of the importance of staying in one’s own social sphere and recognizing their place in the world. After having done all kinds of pantomimes and lived in various burlesque situations whilst traveling the world, the title character comes back home and advises us that it would be best for him to simply “cultivate his garden”…  not in terms of being selfishly interested only in his small plot of physical land, but to play at his level in the territorial, political, economic, and social issues–his own garden, his own yard. This is not a reflection of a post-COVID individualism, but a warning against a possible hyper-connected system that is overwhelmed by the desire to once again restore our norms of contact. The solution seems simple: does “cultivating your garden” not mean less connection and more contact with reality?

ABOUT GUILA-CLARA KESSOUS

Guila Clara Kessous
Guila-Clara Kessous

Guila-Clara Kessous, PhD. is a research professor, a coach, and a UNESCO Artist for Peace. Recipient of a doctorate under Elie Wiesel’s direction, she is using theatrical techniques to help suffering populations (survivors of genocide and human rights violations) better express themselves and have a stronger impact on new generations. She is also certified in positive psychology by Harvard University Professor Tal Ben Shahar and accompanies people to achieve stronger resilience in times of crisis.  She deals with issues of positive leadership, crisis communication, and managerial posture using theatrical techniques and role-playing. Following the coaching of suffering populations, she accompanies personalities, executive committees, senior executives, and managers in crisis contexts in France and abroad. Today, she is working with healthcare personnel, ranging from executives to nurses, to provide coaching and counseling to those serving at the front lines of the coronavirus crisis.

Find out more about Guila-Clara Kessous on our special interview for the #CreativityWilLSaveUS Phase 2 Series

What Will We Take With Us Into Post-COVID Life?

In this powerful Op-ed. Storyteller, Art Curator, Artist & Creative Pois-On Contributor Sabrina Wirth reflects on our collective social and business future after the global pandemic emergency.

COVID19 Mask
Sabrina Wirth wearing one of the masks that she produced during quarantine.

When we started this quarantine journey together in mid-March, it was like we knew we were settling in for the long ride. We knew it would be temporary, and that it would be an inconvenience, but we approached it as a challenge. And so, we began to get creative and resourceful, thinking of ways to keep us busy, or create new content, because all of a sudden, social media became everyone’s outlet, and our home, the stage. Three months in and this temporary way of life has slowly transformed into the “new normal”. The big questions on everyone’s minds now, are: what will remain from this existence, what will return to how we remembered it, and what will change? 

By Sabrina Wirth

There is no question that pre-COVID life will remain in the past, and whatever we had been used to will have to continue in its adapted form- if it is to continue at all. Anyone who had been reluctant to jump on Instagram, or other social media, is now discovering the platform, and realizing that it is the window into a borderless, and virus-free world that does not have to follow social-distancing rules (Yet, at the same time, realizing that it is also a highly visible world, where the impact of what you publish can have far-reaching consequences). In the process of (re)discovering these alternate environments, many individuals and companies came to the awareness that much of what they deemed necessary, like in-person meetings, is in reality more efficient over the phone or on Zoom.

A ZOOM meeting in times of Corona Virus

Distance can no longer be considered an acceptable excuse for missing -or being late to- a meeting, because how can you be late to a phone call? It is safe to say that technology has significantly changed our pace of life over the past 30 years. Remember writing and receiving letters? Those shoeboxes once filled with letters from pen-pals are now filled with either bills, invitations, solicitations, and the occasional letters or postcards. In those letter-writing days, immediate gratification was not a thing. We lived our lives off-line and in the physically present moment. Indeed, everything was much more local, and calling someone in another country was a planned event. When texting became more common, it was exciting to be able to reach another person so instantaneously. Now, no one even gives it a second thought. Our pace of adjusting to the opportunities technology provides has been increasing gradually- so gradually that no one has really noticed.

Then, Covid-19 happened. It was as though someone said “now stop whatever you’re doing because if you want to continue, you have to figure out a different way.” They say “necessity is the mother of inventions”, and in a sense, we (by “we” I mean the majority) have had to invent a new way of life. That’s why #creativitywillsaveus keeps growing, because creatives are, by nature, constantly reinventing and reimagining. They are the ones who are leading the path into this new world, and the more people share on this platform, the more people are inspiring others to do the same. 

With all these advancements in technology and tools for working remotely, why has the workplace structure remained the same for so long? The traditional 9-5, 8-hour workweek has been around since the 20s when Henry Ford and the labor unions instituted a regulated work schedule. After WWII, when women and African Americans entered the workforce, office layouts were designed in the style of the factory floor rows, which had become common during the war years, and have since barely changed. It’s taken 3 months of quarantine and forced “work-from-home” for people to consider a different way- a more creative way.

During the quarantine, Sabrina got creative producing art, homemade masks, and developing innovative entrepreneurial ideas. She is also giving her voice to the podcast version of the Creative Pois-On #CreativityWillSaveUs Series. Check it here below!

And it’s taken this pandemic for people to finally embrace the changes that technology has made possible. If employees are able to productively work from home from whatever geographic location they are in, it confirms the notion that the traditional work model is outdated. As businesses begin to open up and people are given the option to return to their offices to work, there is a high likelihood that most people will want to maintain their flexibility, since it worked just fine during the quarantine. The one main difficulty, however, will be maintaining a sense of structure and balance between work and life, since the two have been blurred by existing within the same space. 

One industry that is discovering a “re-birth” of sorts, is the art business. Auction houses, galleries, museums… the kind of business that relies on in-person viewing. It’s a hand-shake business that capitalizes on the stories behind the object, the mystery of the artist’s process, the stories evoked in the tactility of the paint. The Mona Lisa is not the same on a screen as it is in the Louvre. A picture of a Warhol is not the same as the real thing. So what will this post-Covid transition look like?

Online Gallery
Is the online market the future of the Art Business?

For a while, auction houses were merely flirting with the idea of expanding the market online, and -despite the fact that being in the auction room itself is much more exciting- were cautiously making advancements with online bidding. It was never taken completely seriously though until a recent online auction at Sotheby’s brought in $36 million, more than double from the same period last year. Seeing these numbers come in from digital sales seems to be the validation the art world needed in order to forge ahead into more online ventures. To move ahead of the competition, without the advantages of real estate and location, the challenges will then be about storytelling and creating experiences that transcend between the virtual and the physical. In the meantime, however, museums and institutions that rely on membership and visitor fees will need to re-imagine the on-site experiences they provide in order to keep visitor numbers up. Will visits be limited to a certain number of people? What will happen with blockbuster exhibitions?

As the light at the end of this quarantine-tunnel becomes more visible, and our global attention is split between health and civil rights issues, I cannot help but feel a rush of emotions when I consider what our next phase of life will be. While eager to return to a sense of normalcy, I find myself hoping that some elements from this moment of isolation carry through into our future. Solidarity and community, for one.

#BlackLivesMatter
One of Sabrina’s homemade masks inspired by the principles of solidarity and community. Find more of these creations on Sabrina’s Instagram @_artwirth_

When we were all forced to individually “shelter-in-place”, we found ways to come together with tools like Zoom, FaceTime, and social media. In fact, many people may have found more community throughout these past several months than they had before. The shared efforts of making masks or designing and producing PPE face shields brought creative people from all industries together in a way they hadn’t previously experienced. The Black Lives Matter movement amplified the feeling of solidarity. Hopefully, this awareness of being able to impact change as a collective can transition into a more permanent state. Together, we can do more: we can be more creative, we can affect change, we can be stronger. Together, we are better. Let’s keep this as our main souvenir from Covid.

Sabrina Wirth
Sabrina Wirth

Sabrina Wirth is an artist, curator, writer, and storyteller. Her curiosity for people and different cultures has led her down various unusual, but fulfilling paths, such as exploring Iraqi Kurdistan, and working on a film about refugees in France. She believes in the power of creativity, and has learned that the best stories are the real-life, human ones.

For more info on Sabrina please visit: www.sabrinawirth.com

Surviving COVID-19 & Learning from Survivors of Genocide: The Concept of “Collective Humanity” Over “Collective Immunity”

French Human Rights Artist, Academic and UNESCO’s Artist for Peace Guila Clara Kessous, shares her theories on how to survive the COVID-19 by applying insights learned from assisting survivors of traumatic events such the Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide.

by Guila-Clara Kessous
Edited by Kyra Johnson

Guila Clara Kessous

Why does it take a pandemic to bring humanity together—and realize our interconnectedness as a collective humanity in a global society? It is such a notion which, by an act of shared solidarity, it makes it possible to draw a human perspective of the collective rather than seeing it as a Darwinian means of containing the pandemic. As a UNESCO Artist for Peace, I have spent over two decades of my life serving survivors of globally devastating events, ranging from the Holocaust to the Rwandan Genocide. Throughout the duration of this global crisis, I have made the effort to share some of my theories on how to survive COVID-19 by applying insights learned from assisting the survivors of such genocides. 

Corona Virus
COVID-19 – People’s acts of solidarity towards the healthcare workers.

In times of remembrance of Holocaust victims, such as Yom HaShoah, I would like to remind us all that some of the most important philosophies of humanity have been derived during times of crisis. For example, Newton conceived his law of gravity during the Great Plague in the 1600s. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel became a Nobel Laureate for his many insights on the nature of mankind, offering perspectives such as,  “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Now, in the face of COVID-19, we find people taking a stance towards love, such as cheering at night in New York, Paris, and Italy for healthcare workers, and governors standing up for state justice. 

Reptilian Brain

With the upheaval imposed by the coronavirus, we find ourselves developing a perspective of survival functioning linked to the reptilian brain, whose instructions were defined by Walter Bradford Cannon as the “3 F’s”: Fight, Flee, Freeze. In the face of a threat, the brain dictates a spontaneous behavior that is almost impossible to anticipate, linked to a reaction of either aggressiveness (fight = combat), dodging (flee = escape), or seizure (freeze = stunned). The extreme frustration in the case of the coronavirus is that no matter how hard the brain orders us to fight, our threat is invisible. It can order us to flee, but we are forced to remain confined in our homes. I have explained it as,

“We are left with only one option: inhibitory stupor. This is the one we can read on the faces of officials when they speak to explain the situation in the media. It is the one that animates us all. We are all shocked by the speed and intensity of this epidemic that brings back to mind the ‘memento mori’ of the Ancient Romans: ‘Remember that you are mortal.’

Guila Clara Kessous

It is at this precise moment that we must call upon the leader within us—the one who “shows the way”, who creates enthusiasm,  who is inspiring—the one we want to follow. Overcoming sudden fear presupposes three specific lines of thought, two of which are linked to what I will call “personal leadership”. These have been consciously or unconsciously chosen by many genocide survivors (Shoah, Rwanda, and Bosnia), of whom I have had the chance to follow during customized coaching in post-traumatic dialogue sessions. Today, I advise any leader, but above all, the leader that everyone is for themselves, to be able to follow these three key guiding principles. (The third recommendation is directly related to the position of leader in an organization.) Efforts to improve ourselves as individuals will consequently guide us to a greater international unity–after all, there is no better time than now to take the first steps, as said by Anne Frank: 

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

Anne Frank

1) PHYSICAL INSIGHT: FIND A NEW HOMEOSTASIS & CONNECTION TO YOUR BODY. Just fifteen minutes a day can save your life in terms of resetting the fluidity in your body. Like most post-traumatic stress syndromes, attacks on the joints can scale from the bottom to the top of the body. Moving the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, wrists, and the neck in small circles can be fundamental to finding your healthy and new homeostasis under quarantine. Originally discovered by the scientist

Claude Bernard, the term “homeostasis” comes from the Greek “to hold”, “equal”. It refers to the body’s ability to self-regulate despite imbalances of all types caused by external factors. It thus refers to the body’s ability to balance itself despite adversity. This homeostasis, this “rebalancing”, supposes an awareness of the body’s corporeal reality; and, as in the Russian martial art system, it suggests not to “stiffen” oneself in front of the blow under the influence of astonishment, but to “get out of balance” upon a threat by wasting as little energy as possible.

Since we can’t fight the virus, nor flee from home, let’s make this home—this body that is ours—a mindful, alert, and adaptable entity by being attentive to what it tells us.

Guila Clara Kessous

 “Healing is a process,” says Albert Nsengimana, author of How I Survived Being Killed by My Mother, and who lived in his flesh during the suffering of the Rwandan Genocide. Everyday physical efforts can help aid this vital healing process. Sporting activity, of course, is a very good illustration to which one can add a simple slow choreographed movement reflecting what the body needs. Even a simple balancing exercise at least once a day would be very highly recommended. Take a moment to stretch, spin, and dance!

2) MENTAL INSIGHT: BUILD A MINDSET OF TRAGIC OPTIMISM. People often speak of resilience.  “Resilience,” a notion so dear to ethologist Boris Cyrulnik, implies a willingness to rebuild after a trauma has been accepted and experienced.

Boris Cyrulnik
Ethologist Boris Cyrulnik

Unfortunately, with COVID-19, we are still undergoing the trauma. Victor Frankl’s notion of “tragic optimism” would be more appropriate to the situation. Otherwise, if we pursue “resilience” during this storm, it could evolve into “resignation.” As such, we need to fuel ourselves with this sense of tragic optimism. It is not a question of “happycracy” by forcing oneself to be happy in a superficial way. It is the “optimistic attitude to the tragedy of existence [that] allows. . . to turn suffering into a motive for fulfillment and accomplishment.” This “tragic optimism” tries to enable us to seek within ourselves the resources necessary to cope with a tragic existence that is beyond us. “Changing suffering into a motive for fulfillment” means daring to do what heroes and icons have done; it means maintaining positive psychology and keeping a watchful eye on the situation; neither being too fatalistically nor naively in denial of danger and keeping a belief that the best is yet to come.

3) ORGANIZATIONAL INSIGHT: BUILD A TRIBE OF COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE. What about the “collective body” in terms of teamwork? This line of thought comes from the experience I have gained throughout the duration of this pandemic, coaching managers by videoconference to teach them how to continue to create a link with employees when there is no longer any face-to-face presence. Leadership needs to be reinvented from an organizational point of view, especially if it pertains to an entity that is not used to virtual collaboration. When teams are required to come together through a new medium, we come to understand how valuable individual efforts are in benefitting the collective.

Malala Yousfzai
Malala Yousfzai

Malala Yousfzai, the internationally recognized advocate for education and peace, reminds us that “we realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.” The objective of the virtual team must be to ensure that every individual is heard and to now allow for these circumstances to silence them.  There is an even greater need to find common goals in virtual teams and to reinvent storytelling. “Storytelling is a common myth to the group, a necessity for team cohesion,” as I have explained to colleagues. The appreciative inquiry method is an excellent example of re-creating collective intelligence in times of crisis and is fully applicable via videoconferencing. It involves identifying the successful factors that differentiate the collective in order to strengthen the bonds, particularly in rough times, and to show that leadership is not just a question of pyramidal authority management, but rather, a means of managing people in the service of common values, and who must face hazards such as the coronavirus together. 

Combined, these three insights create a notion of “collective humanity” to replace “collective immunity,” which in some ways is a much more Darwinian perspective of the world. For humanity consists of a body, a spirit, and a living-together, as the three dimensions of this article show. In addressing the progress of the Rwandan nation following its 1994 tragedy, Nsenigmana believes that “it’s better to live behind our past, our story. To move forward. To be together, to consolidate, to make a unit.” An applied mentality of collectivism that aims to unite humanity also points to Nobel Prize-winning existentialist, Albert Camus, in his reminder in an eponymous book narrating another famous epidemic:

“The only way to put people together is still to send them the plague.”

Albert Camus

Not even halfway through 2020, this year presents such a compelling and exciting time for all people, from the United States to Nigeria to China to France, to apply these concepts of collective humanity. Rosian Zerner, who not only survived the Holocaust but was reunited with her family in Lithuania, illustrated this resilience best in her poem reflecting on the nature of the mass genocide, “When Our World Stood Still”: “My hope is that the meaning of our inward pause will not be lost, that we will see this great transition as opening a different, better road ahead, that we return to or reinvent the meaning of what truly being human is in our wonderful creation.” By observing and reflecting on these insights from survivors of traumatic events, each person around the world is faced with the opportunity to be leaders of positivity in designing and building a post-COVID-19 world. 

ABOUT GUILA-CLARA KESSOUS

Guila Clara Kessous
Guila Clara Kessous

Guila Clara Kessous, PhD. is a research professor, a coach, and a UNESCO Artist for Peace. Recipient of a doctorate under Elie Wiesel’s direction, she is using theatrical techniques to help suffering populations (survivors of genocide and human rights violations) better express themselves and have a stronger impact on new generations. She is also certified in positive psychology by Harvard University Professor Tal Ben Shahar and accompanies people to achieve stronger resilience in times of crisis.  She deals with issues of positive leadership, crisis communication, and managerial posture using theatrical techniques and role-playing. Following the coaching of suffering populations, she accompanies personalities, executive committees, senior executives, and managers in crisis contexts in France and abroad. Today, she is working with healthcare personnel, ranging from executives to nurses, to provide coaching and counseling to those serving at the front lines of the coronavirus crisis.

Unlocking & Unmasking With the Powers of Art & Creativity

Letter From Our Editor in Chief Tommaso Cartia

Marco Gallotta
NYC-based Artist Marco Gallotta Masks Series – A tribute to all our first responders.

New York, May 20th, 2020,
how long have you been locked down? A couple of months? Is it really just a couple of months, or have we been living in stages of lockdown, on and off, since our life’s journeys began? Have we escaped? Have we tried to escape? With our bodies, with our minds, with our souls? Have we experienced freedom or are we still excruciatingly mingling with self-imposed or super-imposed imprisonments? Do we know that is our Self who is Super and has Super-powers? Are we aware of the superpower of our creative minds? Do we know that the Creation is never completed until we co-create it and expand its marvels with the pyrotechnical visions of the worlds we wish to live? 

How Long Have I Been Locked Down?

Tommaso Cartia
Tommaso Cartia – Editor in Chief of Creative Pois-On’s Storytelier.

That was one of my first thoughts when the surreal and yet super-real atmosphere of this global pandemic started clouding our vision and super-impose itself on our daily lives. Why was this atmosphere so familiar to me, where and when did I experience it? If I detected the origin of this feeling, could I have recollected how I dealt with it before, and what helped me to escape? The brutal desolation and isolation, the sorrow and the despair, with which this sneaky and virulent virus is paralyzing and polluting both our bodies and consciences, brought back virulent paralyzing and polluting memories.

Masking – An Old Habit
This is certainly not the first mask I’m wearing, and masking is a fashion that really never went out of style. How many times was I forced to wear a mask; a mask on my eyes for the worlds I wasn’t allowed to see or reach, a mask on my mouth for the words I wasn’t allowed to say, a mask on my heart for the feelings I was not allowed to express. How many days and nights, locked-down in a room wishing on lives, wishing on far-away lands and emotional landscapes I so wanted to walk in, fear-free, mask-free.

Free.

Art & Creativity – Compass of Our Lives
What helped me survive that isolation? What helped me expand my vision, my senses, and bring reality closer, shaped exactly how I envisioned it? It was Art, always, there were the artists, the mentors, the writers, the muses, injecting my mind with their purposeful creations. Art and Creativity are the compass of our lives, the sails unfurled navigating towards the ends of any horizon, transporting us through dimensions, unlocking all locks, unmasking all masks. 

With the same instinct that brought me to cling on to the artists to survive my many lockdowns and experiencing the life I’m leading today, we at Creative Pois-On felt that we needed to cling on to the artists to understand this very challenging time that we are facing, find in them guidance and find with them the time to rediscover how our own creativity can lead us to phase 2, 3, 4… of our future. As we are finding new measures to contain the spreading of this virus, and we are looking for effective treatments, the testimony of the artists of our times living through this pandemic, can give us creative measures to contain the spreading of our fears and treat our minds and souls to re-design the more sustainable world of tomorrow, humanly, ethically, economically. 

That’s why in the midst of all of this we launched a special project –#CreativityWillSaveUs

#CreativityWillSaveUs – Enjoy our Web Series on Creative Pois-On Official Youtube Channel.

A video/podcast series and social media campaign – nominated for the prestigious United Nations SDG Impact Awards – where prominent figures from the international world of art, culture, and entertainment come together to reflect on the central value that art brings to all humanity during these challenging quarantine times of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative is also designed to support the global community of artists who are seeing all of their venues temporarily shut down to safely prevent the spreading of the Corona Virus.


Listen to the Podcast Series Here below:

Creative Pois-On thinks that this is the time to go back to basics, to the essential DNA of its mission: “More than 7 billion people are living on Planet Earth. Every single one of us is like an isolated island, a polka-dot (Pois, in French), seemingly disconnected from one another. Laptops, smartphones, and social media provide technological bridges, but the storylines we channel are the real threads for all of the living polka-dots around the world to truly connect in this infinite maze.” 

These words sound so incredibly current and important in this climate of fear and transformation. So Creative Pois-On thought to channel the extraordinary, talented voices of some of the artists whose stories and creations have been enriching the pages of the platform, both on the Creative Pois-On Podcast show, the editorial project – Storytelier – and the Creative Pois-On Official Youtube Channel. The reach extends beyond these outlets, enlarging CP’s tentacular maze to embrace a constellation of a different variety of artistic expressions and artists. All together they raise a voice that can break through these walls of isolation sending everybody a positive message that #CreativityWillSaveUs and that we can spend this time making the most out of our creative powers.

Follow us on this journey with the goal to find ourselves renewed and ready to soon unlock not only the doors of our houses but also the ones of our intuition, when this virus will dissipate and we will be asked to co-create the world of tomorrow, mask-free, fear-free.

Free. 

Ready, Set, Imagine!

Tommaso Cartia



Replace Fear With Curiosity – A Shadow Story

Tips on Business & Creativity During the Lockdown by Our Artistic Director Daniela Pavan

Stay Home. Save Lives. This is the mantra of the moment. And it’s a very good one to have in mind to overcome the current situation that we are going through. These weeks, we are all supposed to be in quarantine, and for sure we are all wondering how long this will last, how can we overcome the current difficulties that we are facing, and what kind of future is awaiting us.

Being quarantined may bring a lot of anxiety and for sure it is a very unusual situation to go through. However, as Steven Spielberg once said, let’s “replace fear with curiosity”. Let’s use this time that we have now to learn new skills and prepare ourselves for all the opportunities that will be available after the Corona Virus emergency. Dancer Twyla Tharp said that “creativity is not just for artists,” and I couldn’t agree more. Also, she stated that creativity, “it’s for business people looking for a new way to close a sale; it’s for engineers trying to solve a problem; it’s for parents who want their children to see the world in more than one way.”

Creativity

Isolation and quarantine are great opportunities to prioritize our well-being, but also to invest time and energy to become more productive. Let me give you some illustrious examples. William Shakespeare wrote King Lear during quarantine, and Isaac Newton produced some of his best work while in quarantine, writing the papers that would become his early calculus and developing his theories on optics while playing with prisms in his bedroom. Also, Florentine writer Giovanni Boccaccio got very productive during his 1348 plague’s quarantine. During that time he wrote The Decameron, a collection of novellas framed as stories that a group of friends tell to each other while locked-down inside a villa. Doesn’t it look like what we are living today? Interesting right?

John William Waterhouse
A Tale from the Decameron (1916) by John William Waterhouse.

They say that “innovation takes time”. How often have we heard this sentence? People need time to think, research, and test ideas. Time to collaborate with others to assess ideas. We need time to get creative. Now we do have that precious resource that we always wanted… we have time! Be creative! Don’t waste it. Being in quarantine is not being on vacation, actually, it means that we are all socially responsible for the future of our community, therefore we should invest this time in learning and improving our skillset to become a better version of ourselves. Instead of being stressed, unproductive and unable to think properly, let’s take a step back, get clear and make a plan so that you can still have a profitable year in your business, despite what we are all experiencing at the moment. Maybe there’s a gift in all of this craziness. Maybe your business or your projects could be even more aligned with your soul’s purpose.

Let’s take a step back and think about how we can use this time wisely. Let’s think about a long-term view of the year rather than panicking. Design Geek & Insta Teacher  Kat Coroy shares an interesting perspective.

She says: “If you are an artist for example and your exhibition just got canceled, rather than being upset, use this time to create really amazing pieces without distractions and, later in the year, you can have an even bigger exhibition which can bring you even more money than having an exhibition now. If you are a jewelry designer, think about a new collection that you can design now and that can be sold later in the year as a back to work style or holiday season gifts. If you are a personal trainer, learn new skills… let’s say learn how to make videos and share your classes on social media and your website. Later in the year, this can be a huge push for your business. This is a time where we can really think about what we really want to achieve and build a plan to get there. Stress and panic are not good friends of thinking clearly. So, take a break from anxiety, and focus on who you are and what your real purpose is.”

Maybe you find out that you want to help to fundraise the research against Corona Virus, or share your knowledge with people. Use your time wisely, you can do this.

So, how can we work on our creativity at the time of Corona Virus?

First of all, creativity is about discovering your own ways to work, your unique practice, and from there growing your confidence. It’s about gathering inspiration from others and learning to recognize the real and true value of what you do. Some of you guys may feel intimidated by creativity or, instead, feel that you have a huge creative spark. Anyhow, let’s explore it together. We may find out that some of the new skills or some of the ideas we develop during this time in quarantine, may be useful in the following months. For example, let’s try to experiment on how to see beyond the obvious. In a book entitled Conscious Creativity that I have recently reopened, there are a lot of interesting exercises that can help unlock our creative potential. One of them is about working with shadows. 

Conscious Creativity

The concept of shadows can be frightening because related to the concept of the unknown. However, shadows are part of our lives. A quote from the book says “as silence proves the sound, and pausing proves the act, it is always darkness that proves the light.” Shadows can transform a dark corner into a piece of poetic atmosphere, and they can also help us see beyond the obvious. By learning how to investigate shadows we can help us work with contrasts, not just artistically speaking but in life as well. And considering the times we live in this can be something we can all work on. The contrasts can make us see the beauty in the shadows.

So, the exercise I would like to suggest today starts with us “thinking about what shadows evoke: new forms? A sense of calmness? A transformation of light?”

A SHADOW STORY

Now let’s create a shadow story. Yes, you read that right, a shadow story. We are storytellers, so let’s roll up our sleeves and build our story.

Shadow

Here is how it works. Collect a series of let’s say 6 images of shadows, to create a visual story that narrates a journey, even if it’s a journey only you can understand. Be led by what you see rather than having a pre-prepared idea and let the narrative be whatever it wants, abstract or linear. The goal is to get you to engage with the shadows and embrace them as creative tools. Taking pictures with your phone is a great way to capture shadows and all their details. It’s not an exercise of perfection, but it is instead a storytelling and narration approach. You may wonder, I am stuck in my house, how can I do it? 

The answer is to use the space that surrounds you to get inspired. Start observing it. You may notice details you were not even aware of. Observing the contrasts of light and shade near windows and doors is always a great place to begin. Also, look for how colors can add value to your story, combined with shadows in different ways.

Then if you like the idea, share your story with us on IG, tagging @creativepois_on with the hashtag #shadowstory. Looking forward to seeing your stories! =)

Here is my shadow story:

Ready, Set, Imagine!

Daniela Pavan.

Refocus and Trust During Uncertainty

An inquisitive exploration of the theme of stage fright, in and off the spotlight, during these challenging times of uncertainty. Featuring an interview with musician, actor, and model Ian Mellencamp.

By Sabrina Wirth

The topic of Fear has been on a lot of people’s minds lately. What causes it exactly? On one hand, it can help to motivate or to protect, but on the other hand, fear can also be the barrier that keeps you from achieving your dreams. I’ve grappled with this subject for many years, and thus have had it on my mind often. I remember writing a poem about it in elementary school, concluding that it has to do with uncertainty. We are afraid of what we don’t know. And just like a child who is afraid of the dark loses that fear once the light is turned back on, we are comforted when we are able to clarify an unusual situation. Understanding what the origin of the uncertainty is, can be a useful way to break free from that psychological obstacle. 

Our theme this month is “on stage”, so while there are many types of fear out there, this post will be focused on the kind that is connected with performance and vulnerability. When we expose a part of ourselves to the world, fear can often take over in a crippling way, casting doubt and self-consciousness over the performance. We forget that everyone else has the same obstacles to overcome in their daily lives. The key to overcoming this obstacle though is -as it is in many cases in which fear plays a key role- trust. Trust the motivation behind the performance, and trust in your talent. There’s a reason why you made it to that stage in the first place.

It comes as a surprise to many people, but celebrities often get performance anxiety as well. Adele would get it so bad that she would throw up before or after performances, and Barbra Streisand even gave up performing live for 3 decades after forgetting her lyrics at a concert in Central Park in 1967. Everyone feels it at some degree or another, because it all has to do with the “not knowing”- the uncertainty of the future. Will I hit that high note? Will something go unexpectedly, terribly wrong? Will I start sweating? What will they think of me? Will they love me? Will they hate me? 

Personally, I’ve always loved the attention. Sometimes I wonder “why didn’t I go into acting?” It seems I love an audience. Or at least I used to when I was a kid. I remember listening to my uncle telling jokes, and his delivery was so good, that no matter whether the joke was funny or not, he would always get laughs. I tried to recreate his joke once, in front of a room full of other kids my age and thought that since he had been so successful telling that joke, then I would also be a hit. Well, the context was all wrong, and my delivery wasn’t as good, and by the time I got to the punch line, the part when I expected the room to erupt in laughter, all I heard instead was silence. It was mortifying. I never tried that again. If I could go back in time though, I would have advised myself against telling a Jesus/golfing joke in a room full of 11 year-olds. 

Before I attempted this stand-up comedy, though, I had never experienced that kind of embarrassment. Unfortunately, that memory became engrained in my mind like a mini trauma, and for a long time afterward, I would get anxiety if I was ever placed in a similar situation again. If you ever notice how long it takes for a celebrity to make a comeback after failing publicly, it’s because of this same kind of experience, but at a much larger scale. However, a fast recovery also has to do with mental discipline and a strong belief in oneself.

When Snowboard prodigy, Shaun White, suffered from a horrific crash during a 2018 training run in New Zealand, he recalls being terrified. He said, “It’s just like this visual flashing in my head of what happened. I know I can do the trick, but I knew I could do the trick when I crashed.”

Shaun White

Despite being afraid that what had happened to him in New Zealand could happen again, his desire to stand up on that Olympic podium once more, and reach for another gold medal was stronger. He adjusted his focus from that of fear of crashing to that of attaining his goal. If there was any remnant of fear still there, it probably was transferred from “what if?” to “what if I don’t even try?” The fear of not trying proved to be stronger. 

For singers, and people in the entertainment industry, recovery may be more difficult, as it was for Barbra Streisand, since performance can be deeply personal. Oftentimes, a singer is the only one on stage, and all eyes are on him or her. Nevertheless, whether one is competing in an Olympic arena, or performing on the stage before the games begin, the pressure of being watched and judged is there.

Eminem

Eminem’s song “Lose Yourself” depicts the performer’s anxiety so well. What if you have only that one chance, that one opportunity, and you blow it? The thing is, if you start thinking that way before a performance, you will most likely manifest it. The last half of “Lose Yourself” emphasizes Eminem’s internal struggle with himself. He knows he’s talented, he knows that success is his only option, and he is hungry to not only improve himself, but prove himself as well. His motivation for taking the chance in front of an audience overcame his fear of failure, and look at him now. He ends his song with: “You can do anything you set your mind to, man”. Fear, anxiety, confidence, it’s all a mindset. 

Ian Mellencamp, a musician, actor, and established model, is no stranger to the stage, and even grew up learning about stage life, just by being around his famous uncle, John Mellencamp. Despite being in the spotlight for so long, he says he still gets anxiety before any big performance. He recognizes though, the negative impact of giving in to that anxiety, and instead makes a conscious effort to let go and live in the moment: 

“For me, the ultimate goal is not only to avoid focusing on the anxiety or the material but to live within the present moment during a performance. This is when execution is intended, accurate, authentic, as well as unique, where real improvisation can happen. Therefore, the best performances are achieved this way.”

Ian Mellencamp
Ian Mellencamp

For refocusing or getting over the “stage fright”, Ian recommends preparation: “I’ve learned that the best way for me to combat anxiety is by being prepared. Visualization, meditation, and breath work are also great tools for combating anxiety and enhancing the preparation/performance processes. These tools help funnel the focus on the material and not on the potential negatives. I feel that being prepared and well-rehearsed is the number one confidence booster and anxiety reducer. Combine preparation with the other tools (visualization, meditation, breath work), have patience and persistence, and you will be on your way towards another level of performance.”

Right now, the world is united in its uncertainty about the future. We can either let that be a reason to feel despair and fear, or we can use that time to focus on the present moment, as Ian recommended. Now is the time to prepare, and work on ourselves. How can we use this time productively? When we return to a certain level of normalcy, we will see how people have transformed throughout this period: there may be those who become accustomed to life within their cocoons, but then there will also be those who will surprise everyone, and emerge as butterflies. Your decision!  

Sabrina Wirth
Sabrina Wirth

Sabrina Wirth is an artist, curator, writer, and storyteller. Her curiosity for people and different cultures has led her down various unusual, but fulfilling paths, such as exploring Iraqi Kurdistan, and working on a film about refugees in France. She believes in the power of creativity, and has learned that the best stories are the real-life, human ones.

For more info on Sabrina please visit: www.sabrinawirth.com

Are you On Stage or Back Stage?

By Daniela Pavan

Backstage

Shakespeare said “All the world is a stage and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.”

Daniela Pavan
Daniela Pavan. Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Creative Pois-On.

This is how our Creative Briefing episode of this month of March begins. This quote is not only part of a very famous monologue by Shakespeare; it is also an important metaphor of our life. It’s like the world we live in is our stage, or better, the context that surrounds us is our stage and we are all actors, playing different roles according to the different contexts we engage with. So, somehow all of us are on the stage of our lives, on a daily basis. I found this a very strong and fascinating metaphor, that can be applied to both social interactions in general as well as business and professional relationships. A metaphor that makes me wonder that since human beings are like actors on the stage of their lives, what can we learn from those who are really on stage every day, working as performing artists?

LISTEN TO MORE OF DANIELA’S INSIGHTS ON THE CREATIVE BRIEFING EPISODE

Sociologist Erving Goffman uses the metaphor of the theater in a very interesting way in my opinion, creating a dramaturgical perspective that sociology applies to study and explain social interactions. Goffman affirms that life is basically a “performance” carried out by “teams” of participants, “front stage” and “backstage”. The terms “front stage” and “backstage” refer indeed to different behaviors that people engage in, every day. Through this metaphor of the theater applied to sociology, Goffman points out the importance of three additional elements: the “setting,” “the appearance” and “the manner”. Specifically, the setting is the context, which is important because it shapes the performance. Then we have the role of a person’s “appearance” that may change responses in terms of social interactions, and the effect that the “manner” of a person’s behavior has on the overall performance. In this very intriguing approach, what is the difference between the “front stage” and “backstage” behavior? Cultural capital, as French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu would say, and norms and expectations for behavior shaped by the context we live in, play the main role in defining the difference between the front and backstage.

Concert

According to Goffman, people engage in “front stage” behavior when they are aware that others are watching. Interesting, right? Typically, front stage behavior follows a sort of social script shaped by cultural norms, like when we go to the office or queuing at the supermarket to pay.  Whatever the setting of front stage behavior, people are aware of how others perceive them and what they expect, and this knowledge tells them how to behave. Front stage behavior change though in anxiety situations, when people are scared and act instinctively rather than thinking about social norms. However, in normal situations, when someone ignores the expectations for front stage behaviors, it may lead to confusion, even controversy, such as a managing director who shows up at an important meeting in her bathrobe and slippers.

Graduation

Back Stage Behavior instead refers to what we do when nobody is looking, so people are free of the expectations of the front stage context. Therefore, they feel more relaxed when in a backstage setting and can let their guard down. They are not required to wear work clothes or make-up, someone even changes how they speak when backstage. Many of us are not even aware of these differences. When backstage, some people rehearse certain behaviors or interactions and prepare for upcoming front stage performances, such as practicing their smile or handshake, rehearse a presentation or conversation, or prepare themselves to look a certain way once in public again. In the book The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene, the author explains how Napoleon used to spend hours in front of a mirror, modeling his gaze on that of contemporary actor Talma. While backstage though, we are not always alone. Family members, roommates, partners may change our behavior while backstage, even though we feel less under the spotlight, as it happens when we are frontstage.

Theater

People’s backstage behavior mirrors the way actors behave in the backstage of a theater. So going back to my previous question, what can we learn from performers? Being a huge lover of the theater and an actress myself and, at the same time a woman in business, I believe there are a lot of connections that can be designed and developed between acting and business. I am a strong believer that performing on stage is a great way to prepare yourself for success in the working world. For example, in a very interesting article by LifeHack.org, they list the reasons people who love performing on stage are more likely to be successful. So let’s explore the most important together!

  • First of all, you will learn how and when to improvise. Success on stage requires the ability to respond to unexpected developments. This attitude in a business environment translates into being flexible, able to adapt quickly to change and to overcome problems.
  • Then, being on stage as a performer teaches you the importance of deadlines. If someone is late to the show, the whole crew has a problem and the audience won’t definitely be happy. In business, showing up for meetings and meeting deadlines for project deliveries are valuable skills.
  • Communication wise, performers know how to present. When on stage, actors are in full view of the audience as well as fellow performers, therefore they need to develop the confidence to stand in front of people and deliver value. This is huge in business, especially to be able to lead meetings and deal with negotiations.
Stage
  • Performers know how to wear different hats: Delivering a successful performance requires contributions from many people who cover different roles. While you may be an actor, a flexible attitude that allows you to take on multiple responsibilities makes a big difference. This reflects in business because successful people rarely say “that’s not in my job description.”
  • Empathy is very important while on stage. Performers know how to read other people. Empathy helps while performers work on the show as well as to engage with the audience, on stage. This skill makes a difference outside the performing world as well. With empathy, you know how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and are able to better understand the context you are in. Think about how Design Thinking includes the value of empathy in its process. 
  • Eventually, performers know the importance of celebrating success together! Many actors and performers throw a party when they successfully complete opening night. Recognizing others and being thankful for their contributions are important to professional success as well.

So now the question for you is, do you want to be on or backstage? 

All the World’s a Stage

By Pamela Q. Fernandes

Metz Opera
Metz Opera, France

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players,” so begins the famous pastoral comedy “As You Like It” by William Shakespeare. It is, of course, one of his most famous poetic allusions to the theatre because quite frankly all of life is nothing but a play. Each of us acts a part or has a role that is unique to us. No two people are alike, not even monozygotic twins. Your role and the purpose you serve is unique to you. 

The Role We Play 

Shakespeare

That life is a stage; it is a religious idea in a way that fascinated Shakespeare and many of his fans. The Merchant of Venice and Macbeth have many scenes where the protagonists wonder, about the passions of life that so consumed them only for them to disappear into death having fulfilled their roles in life. And so, each of us plays a role. 

Often, I hear people trivialize themselves or the work they do, “I’m just an accountant or I’m just a housewife. I’m only at an entry-level job.” And on and on the go, making light of who they are and what they do. Yet, the role you play cannot be played by anyone else. You as a friend, as a son, or daughter, mother or father, brother or sister, worker, colleague, artist, lawyer, journalist. There’s none like you. You have a set of talents and experiences that are specific to you. 

What Makes You

Chicago

What makes you, you? The games you played as a child, the books you read, the subjects you learned, the movies you watched, the jokes you heard, the food you ate, the places you visited, the lives that touched yours, the lives you touched, the music you enjoyed, the people you met and the experiences you had, made you, you. And no one else will have the same cocktail of experiences you did. It is what makes you special. It is what makes you so suitable to play that role, the dice of life has handed to you. 

In my own life, I’ve noticed people raise eyebrows when I talk about who I am. I am an Indian-Portuguese by heritage but I was born in Kuwait. We fled the first Gulf War and stayed through the second. I love falafels and shawarma but still love a good chicken xacuti curry that’s been cooked in vinegar. I like dancing the jive and reading English classics. I wear many hats as I host a podcast, sing in a church choir, write fiction and volunteer at a hospital nearly 50 hours a week. I serve when I can and try to play the role I have the best way I know it. It’s not much but it’s the one I got and I try to follow the adage “to bloom where I’m planted.” Often, it’s hard, and I doubt myself and my ability to do it all. The critics and the work can be overwhelming. When Painting Kuwait Violet came out, I was nervous about writing about maids and their struggles. Then my book became a finalist at the American Book Fiction Awards. I realized that no one can do what I do. No one else could have written that book but, me. No one would probably love to do all the things I like doing, the roles I enjoy playing or wearing the many hats I wear. 

Life is Hard

Let’s not brush aside the fact that this play of life is hard. We’re all doing it for the first time and it doesn’t come with a manual. There’s no script to follow. Unlike theatre where the climax is over and the characters go home to real “normal” life, ours is a 24/7 role that never ends until we exit left into eternity. We can’t take a break from being a sibling or a friend, we can’t walk away from our spouses or quit being “us.” And so while on this stage of life, we need to ask ourselves about the purpose we serve and how our lives are being shaped by this purpose. The beauty of human life is that we can change. We can change emotionally, physically, politically and spiritually. We can learn from the mistakes of our ancestors and play our roles better. Having studied other great and not so great people, we can learn to transcend into finer human beings and adapt to our roles. 

You Are A Light

The greatest teacher, Jesus tells people, “You are the light of the world.” He says that to everyone. Each of us has the light to make a difference in the world. No matter how small the role we play in life is. We can be difference makers just by doing the next thing that we’re supposed to do. By playing that role, by changing that diaper, by taking out the trash, by offering a seat on the train, by being kind over the phone, by calling a lonely parent, visiting someone who’s sick, picking up the slack at work, lending a listening ear and simply being who we are. It takes courage and perseverance to do it, especially when no one sees what you do. Don’t lose heart when your role gets tough when life gets tougher when the going is difficult and the path might even be lonely. Just keep going because no one can light up the stage as you do. Even when there are no lights on us, when there’s no publicity, no crowds of adoring fans, no fancy clothes or makeup, just keep on fulfilling the role where all the world is a stage and the light is YOU. 

Pamela Fernandes

Pamela Q. Fernandes is an author, doctor and medical writer. She writes women’s fiction and romance. She hosts The Christian Circle podcast. You can find out more about her at https://www.pamelaqfernandes.com

Women ‘On Stage’ – Alessandra Salerno and the ‘NoQuiet Women Orchestra’

By Tommaso Cartia

Alessandra Salerno
Alessandra Salerno and the ‘NoQuiet Women Orchestra’

An American Exclusive for Creative Pois-On. International Singer-Songwriter Alessandra Salerno and her ‘NoQuiet Women Orchestra’ performed (You Make me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, on the occasion of #internationalwomensday. The Sicilian music sensation tells us how the idea of the performance came about, and reflects on what it means to be a woman ‘on stage’ in the music industry of today, and on her relationship with the female icons of the blues American tradition. These days, Alessandra is on the front line producing musical acts remotely to stand up for Italy during the tough times of the quarantine imposed on the country to prevent the spread of the COVID-19. We were expecting her to come back on New York’s stages this spring, and although the wait could be longer, she is positive that: “when this panicking climate ends, we will get back on our feet, even stronger than before. New York is a city dear to my heart, and I can’t wait to go back with my new album in my hands Alessandra Salerno – VOL.1 and a live show that will see me more mature, aware and ready to move my audience singing in my three languages: English, Italian and Sicilian.”

Let’s meet Alessandra Salerno backstage and dream away with her music while waiting to see her back on stage soon. 

Click here to watch Alessandra Salerno and the ‘NoQuiet Women Orchestra’ Perform ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’

It’s a sudden epiphany. Like opening your eyes and your ears on a new energetical vibration, when you experience Alessandra Salerno performing for the first time. Like the sudden eruption of a volcano. And it’s the volcanic land of Sicily, both bitterly harsh and exotically sweet like an African breeze, that forged and painted the alchemic colors of her voice. Her voice and her image are an instrument of Beauty, an enchantment that finds in its apparent contradictions, its subliminal harmony. Framed in what seems a regal Flemish painting, her porcelain skin and the long red hair echo those northern lands that had once conquered the Sicilian island. But the texture of her voice and the autoharp that she embraces takes us on a journey, far away in another country, in the American country and folk tradition that Alessandra embodies with the grace of a fairy of the woods and the soul of a resilient blueswoman. 

Alessandra Salerno and her Autoharp

Alessandra is the definition of ‘force of nature’, explosive, creative, unpredictable and so exuberantly generous on stage. I’ve witnessed her performing several times, and each time I saw her abandoning herself completely to gifting her audience with raw, unbridled emotions. She sparks on stage with her histrionic humor and her absolutely delightful personality. Every stage is The Stage for her. From an impromptu concerto in a remote location to the much-viewed one of The Voice of Italy talent show that saw her rise to fame; from the maxi concerts that she often organizes as Artistic Director in her city Palermo alongside big names of the Italian and international musical scene, to prestigious American venues. She had the chance to perform in Washington at the NIAF Gala, The Bitter End in New York, at the NYU at the popular Sofar Sounds circuit, and also, at a Baptist church in Harlem where she magically was asked to perform with a chorus of all-black singers. She just stepped in, asked to sing… and the miracle happened. 

Alessandra Salerno performs “Creep” by the Radiohead at The Voice of Italy Blind Auditions

Extraordinary things seem to happen when Alessandra is around, her spirit is contagious, and her strong sense of community and aggregation produces entrepreneurial acts that would take a nation of music producers to put together. And she does them overnight.  Like the homage for the International Women’s Day and the ‘NoQuiet Women Orchestra’ that did not exist before March 8th 2020; or the streaming concert that she performed last week from her terrace to give a moment of solace to all the Italians living the nightmare of the quarantine. 

Tells us how the idea of reinterpreting (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, the iconic Aretha Franklin’s song written by Carole King, came about.

Alessandra Salerno

Carole King is an icon, for any woman musician. In paying homage to her I wanted to speak to the future generations that maybe know her less. The business world of today is still very chauvinistic, and the music industry is no exception; on the contrary, it is one of the toughest fields for women. She has been writing music for 50 years, collaborating with the biggest artists, winning the most prestigious awards and she gifted the world with this powerful hymn. It is a ‘necessary’ song, for humankind and for us women, we savor a taste of freedom when we listen to it and when we sing it. But it speaks to men also, to make them understand our strength, our sensitivity, our freedom, and the beauty to be women that they should respect. That’s why I decided to honor all women with this song on the occasion of #internationalwomensday and the #womenshistorymonth.

It seems that the idea of the performance was born from an instinctual artistic act, a sudden eruption, strong with creativity, sound, and feminity. You created the ‘NoQuiet Women Orchestra’ basically overnight right?

Exactly! I was watching a documentary on Carole King that night and the inspiration came immediately, like a burning fire. I thought that to send a strong message to women I should have done something big. So, I called 18 female musicians, and I invited them to be part of the project. We risked being almost 40 because the enthusiasm with which my idea was welcomed has been extremely powerful. Each one of them wanted to invite a fellow female colleague. I needed to contain the project, because of the timing and the capacity of the stage hosting us. But this project is destined to grow. The night before releasing the video I was looking for a name for the ensemble, for something that could have all represented us and mean something also for all the women listening. ‘No Quiet’. That was it, the exact meaning I had in mind. Because we women should not stay silent, as artists that struggle to succeed, and as friends, daughters, mothers, lovers, human beings. It’s an invitation to raise our voices to the world, in unison. This is the ‘NoQuiet Women Orchestra’. 

Alessandra Salerno

March is #womenhistorymonth and also in February, the U.S. celebrates the #blackhistorymonth. These are two worlds that are very dear to your heart. Tell us about your love for the black female voices of singers like Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Billie Holiday and your relationship with the blues, folk, and gospel American tradition.

I followed the #blackhistorymonth a lot over social media, and you are right, I’m in love with the African American culture. I’ve always felt a sort of a very distinctive form of spirituality within myself since I was a kid. My women, my Muses, were Aretha, Etta James, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Whitney Houston, Nina Simone. I dreamt to be like them, and in their voices and skin color, I’ve always identified myself, in those shades so significantly rich. I still cry over the same songs, like “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday. I found the gospel, the one I was looking for. I’ve been part of a choir for a very long time, and my last time in New York gifted me with an unforgettable experience. I sang in a Harlem’s cathedral accompanied by a wonderful choir. My African American colleagues tell me that I have a black soul. I wish I could find out who I was in another life…

“Faith Within Your Hands” an original song by Alessandra Salerno

Some time ago I had the chance to interview another great Sicilian Singer-Songwriter, Carmen Consoli. She was telling me about her love for the ladies of the American blues music, and she compared them to Rosa Balistreri, the myth of the Sicilian, female songwriting tradition. Because in her opinion, Blues as a genre and an attitude, comes from the same suffering, the same cry of pain that turns into ransom, and from a similar sense of belonging to one’s roots. Do you agree with this definition and what is blues for you?

I totally agree! And I always made this parallel. The music from the South of the world has blues in its veins. The ‘blue notes’ are by definition dark, and the color blue connects with some nostalgic, suffered feelings. Modern music comes from the slaves’ working the camps, from those prayers that would mark the days passing by and the job’s rhythms. The south of the world is united by this hardness of life, this sense of ransom and this strong spirituality. You can find all of this in Rosa Balistreri’s voice. I started singing Rosa when I was 8 years old. These are natural inclinations, everything would lead me to those singers. They are all women, singers, souls made of the same matter. Among them, I would also mention two other icons of the Black Music from the South: Chavela Vargas and Cesària Évora.

Alessandra Salerno performs “Who Told You”. English version of “Cu ti lu dissi’ by Rosa Balistreri.

Recently, you’ve been the recipient of an award dedicated to Rosa Balistreri; and you are the first performer ever to translate her in English. How important it is for you Rosa’s exemplary as an artist and a woman, and what do you feel when you embody and present her to the foreigner’s stages. 

The award has been a great honor for me. As I said, I started to pay homage to her since the very first time I went on stage as a kid. Rosa would tell me of a Palermo I didn’t know. Some would argue that I was too young at that time to understand her, but I’ve always been a very empathetic person, and I would say that she helped me develop my sensitivity, as an artist and a human being. She was one of the first-ever female songwriters in Italy, and her life has been very troubled and, as it happens to many artists, she ended up dying poor and misunderstood. To me, to bring her with me today and putting her on the setlist of my shows alongside my own songs and the tributes to the women that we talked about before, is a moral duty as well as an artistic pleasure. The idea of translating her popular song ‘Cu ti lu dissi’ in “Who Told You”, came because I thought that I needed to gift the world with a version that everybody can understand. Towards the end of the song, I sing in the Sicilian dialect as well, to honor my roots. Every time I sing it in front of an American audience, I witness many different emotional reactions, that move me and for which I’m so so grateful.

Alessandra is a woman…? 

She is a woman with her feet on the ground but with her head chasing dreams. I don’t fear death, but I can be afraid of the future. I wish I will have all the time to make all of my dreams as an artist and a woman come true. I’m very determined but I always try to act out of respect for the others, generosity and giving space to my inner child, who keeps on giving me the enthusiasm needed to keep on going and appreciate life’s little pleasures. 

The World Stage is shutting down at the moment, but the show must go on and will go on. We were expecting you on the New York stages this spring, but I’m sure that the waiting will just make the comeback even more explosive. After all, even a volcano stays quiet before the eruption. What can we expect from your next artistic eruptions?

When this panicking climate will end, we will get back on our feet, even stronger than before. New York is a city dear to my heart, and I can’t wait to go back with my new album in my hands Alessandra Salerno – VOL.1 and a live show that will see me more mature, aware and ready to move my audience singing in my three languages: English, Italian and Sicilian. I wish to establish myself, even more, for who I am – an exotic artist always looking for something special and unique to communicate. My Autoharp will always be here with me of course, but I plan to play also other instruments on stage and also to dress up my songs with my own style. Remember, I’m also a fashion designer! 

For more info on Alessandra Salerno please visit: www.alessandrasalerno.com

Erica Jong – Navigating ‘Fear’ to Always say ‘Yes’ to the World

By Tommaso Cartia

Erica Jong
Erica Jong – Photo Credit Christian Als

The American novelist, satirist, poetess, and quintessential feminist icon Erica Jong opens the doors of her New York apartment to the Artistic Directors of Creative Pois-On, Daniela Pavan and Tommaso Cartia, for an intimate conversation. The author reflects on her life’s journey, on being a woman in the #metoo times of today, on her creative process and the remarkable impact that her revolutionary masterpiece ‘Fear of Flying’ had and still has on women all over the world. Plus she opens up about her loving relationship with Italy and her latest poetry book: ‘The World Began with Yes.”

Stepping into somebody’s else home can be a surreal experience. Like discovering a virgin territory, entering a new dimension. A home is somehow a sanctuary of our own life, of our own inner being, filled with memorabilia tracking down our personal history, the blueprint of our existential journey. Can we recall what were the very first impressions of a place the very first time we stepped foot into it? I can certainly recall what I felt when I entered Mrs. Jong’s apartment in New York. Overwhelming is the geometry of this sensation; vivid vivaciousness is the colorful pattern of this sensation.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST EPISODE HERE

As we stepped into the living room, you could immediately sense the density of a life intensely lived, of a writer who is a life’s traveler. A space exuberant with art and exquisite interior design taste – Jong’s mother, Eda Mirsky Mann, was a painter and a designer – artifacts from all over the world, and of course books, a bibliothèque of books, and a writing station that you would guess must be the altar where the ritual of storytelling is performed. 

Erica Jong
Erica Jong

The colors all over the room are bright, luminous and welcoming, and they match the richness of the red floral pattern that blooms on the blouse Mrs. Jong wears, and they match the warm embrace with which she invites us into her world. A poetical world of creativity, intellect, inquisitiveness, empowerment, wittiness, good humor and open-hearted humanity. The world of a dreamer who keeps on writing poetry because: “it keeps me in touch with the unconscious”. Let’s step into Erica Jong’s world together. Ready, set, imagine…

TOMMASO – Today we are going to explore with you what role Love & Erotism play in your narratives, poetical aesthetic, and emotional and intellectual journey as a writer who so fearlessly broke so many taboos that were imprisoning the expression of women, from the 70’s to our ‘times up’ times. Starting from the groundbreaking masterpiece “Fear of Flying”. How did the idea of the book come about?

ERICA JONG — People ask me that question all the time and I don’t really know. I know that I was keeping notebooks throughout my twenties, but I had no idea they would turn into a novel. Then, I went to this conference of psychoanalysts (because at that time I was married to one), and it was so funny and crazy that I thought: “this is the frame for the book; but the book has to go back and forward in time, it can’t just be in one time.” It’s a book about my whole life up to the age of 28 and looking at it, I never thought I would have found a way to tell the story. 

T — So the book is a reflection of yourself as a woman at that moment in time. But was it also inspired by different traits of an ideal woman? 

E — Both I would say. I was noticing that books were missing the interior life of a woman. That was the period where all the novels where about mad housewives. In the 60s/70s, women were just satisfied with their lives, but not knowing where to go. I came to hate these mad housewives’ novels because the end of every novel seemed all so similar to me. I wanted to talk about the interior life of a woman in a different way. 

DANIELA PAVAN — Have you always considered yourself a feminist or was that a label that has been attached to you? And how different it is to be a feminist in the #metoo era? 

E — I have been a feminist my whole life. My mother was a feminist, my grandmother was a feminist… I don’t think there was ever a time in my life when I thought that women were completely free to be themselves. It was always a motivation for me to write books about women in which they were both sexual and intellectual. Because in most books about women, either the woman is completely consumed with sexuality or she has no sexuality and she’s just an intellectual and I thought, “it isn’t true. We are both.” 

T — Did you have a perception of the impact that the book would have on women at the time you published it? 

E — I think that you can never imagine that the lightning will strike. Sometimes a book intersects with the time and it suddenly becomes a phenomenon. You can’t control that, and you’d be a terrible egotist to imagine it would happen to your book because it happens very rarely. I remember my American publisher saying: “we’ll publish 5000 copies and we’ll probably have to eat them.” Then, my paperback publisher which at that time had a woman in charge said: “I will not buy the book unless you agree to print 35000 copies, because this book is the story of my life and the story of every woman’s life.” She really enforced it. If the book had not come out in a time when there were women in charge of publishing houses, the whole thing would’ve been different.

Erica Jong – Photo Credit Gianni Franchellucci

The Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy wrote a very influential book where she says, “the Middle East needs a sexual revolution.” Who knows how soon it will come, but allowing women to have sexual desire has been a problem throughout history. I think that it has been because it’s much stronger than masculine sexuality, and people want to control and contain it. There have always been periods where women’s sexuality is alive and then inevitably goes backward.

D — In your opinion, how much is a woman really free to express her sexuality? And how much is she allowed to express her romantic side? Also, do you think that a woman can be driven by a strong male energy and vice versa? 

E — I certainly think a woman can be attracted to that kind of energy, but I wouldn’t call it male. I would call it energy. It takes different forms. There’s no doubt in my mind that sexual energy is related to creativity. As long as women were held down sexually, they’re also not allowed to express their creativity. The two are connected. 

T — Allowing your body and feelings to be naked, exposed and unleashed, can be paralyzing. In March, with Creative Pois-On we are also covering the storytelling of the stage, and we are thinking about this concept that ‘stage fright’ is actually something that we experience on and off a stage when we have to be under the spotlight of our own both professional and personal life. How did you explore the themes of fear and change in your writing?

E — When I’m writing I always tell myself that no one is going to read it and that it’s just for me. When I have to send the book out to my agent and to my publisher, I feel terrified. Always. There’s a moment where I just don’t want to do it. I experience that with every book. I force myself and I’m always sure that nobody will like it. 

D — In the book, Fear of Dying your character experiences the death of her parents and she’s losing her husband too. What advice would you give to women who, in situations of change and dramatic events, think that they are not strong enough to face it? 

E — Life is change. As all the Buddhists say we try to keep life still, but we can’t. Nothing is permanent. We have to accept that and it’s really hard. I’ve just been reading this book by Pema Chödrön “The Buddhist’s Nun”, where she reflects on how to deal with the uncomfortable of life. She says that we fight against change, but change is the nature of life. We are never going to be able to stop change. If we think we can, we’re deluding ourselves. Even when you think things are settled, they’re never settled. I would hope that my books give women (and men) courage. That’s my deepest wish. 

T — Talking about women’s portrayal in contemporary fiction, movies , and TV. Where do you think that the imagery of the woman is going, and what is your take on a phenomenon like The Handmaid’s Tale, the TV show based on Margaret Atwood’s novel? 

Erica Jong

E — Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale 40 years ago. I remember going to the first movie that was made of it because she was somebody I knew, we were poets together and we wrote first novels around the same time. The book starts with the fear that human beings will not be able to reproduce because the planet is dying, which we’re very aware of now. That was really the starting point for the book. We’re still dealing with that — people are afraid of having children in a world where the planet, the animals and the plants are dying. She saw very early what was going on. But it was only the tv-series that made the book so known worldwide. 

D — To stay in the lines of pop culture and current social phenomenon, I’m curious to ask you, what do you think about dating nowadays and the use of the dating apps?

E — I can’t imagine going to Tinder and swiping through faces and profiles. People lie about their age, their pictures. It doesn’t seem like a great idea to me, but I know about a lot of people that have met that way. Every time I’ve been single, dating had changed. 

T — As you may know, we are both Italians, so we can’t miss the chance to ask you about your relationship with Italy and Italian literature. What did it mean to you to win the Fernanda Pivano award and how was it meeting the great Umberto Eco

E — Nanda was lovely to me she took care of me like a mommy almost. One time, when I was going to the Maurizio Costanzo Show, (a popular Italian talk show Ed.) at that time she thought that Maurizio was a bit of a sexist and so she said: “I’m not letting Erica go without me on the show ”. She came to defend me. She was very tender and sweet and every time I was in Italy, I would visit her. I met Umberto Eco here at the Italian Cultural Institute. I was asked to introduce him when his The Name of the Rose came out. We were supposed to have a dialogue, but Umberto, practically, would not let me talk. He just talked over me. I’ve met him a few times, including Stefano his son ( I find him so nice). Umberto was an old-fashioned Italian, with a patriarchal mentality. 

Erica Jong and Fernanda Pivano at the ‘Fernanda Pivano Award’

Why do I love Italy? Italy is the one country in the world where you have permission to be human. You have permission to make mistakes, to laugh at yourself, to fail and recover. What I like about the Italian character is that you’re allowed to be a human being. Americans are so obsessed with success — we’re so afraid of failure and in Italy there’s some kind of humor about people. Not that Italian people aren’t neurotic, but the idea that you’re going to make mistakes, you’re not going to perfect all the time, that’s very deep and in the Italian character. I love that! 

In my Italian language course, we had to read Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio. It’s really a book about failure and success, it is so profound. And really, what is Pinocchio’s problem? I want to be a human being. I don’t want to be a puppet. And be able to laugh at yourself. That’s deep in the Italian character. How can you go through life if you can’t laugh at yourself? 

D — What relationship do you have with your imagination? 

E — I’m a big dreamer. I continue to write poetry because it keeps me in touch with the unconscious. I’m very proud that my latest book The World Began with Yes, is published in Italian as well with the title “Il Mondo è Cominciato Con Un Si”, by the Publisher Bompiani, translated by Giovanna Granato with a foreword by Bianca Pitzorno

Italian Book Cover by Bompiani

In this book a wrote a poem that reads (she recites):

The World Began With Yes
One molecule said yes to another molecule and life was born – Clarice Lispector

It was always yes, sì, da, yah
The sibilant sound of assent,
The slippery tongue in the mouth
Of the lover, the da dawning.
The yah yelling,
The sì, sì, sì, sugary & sweet…

It is so nice that I got them to do a two languages edition. If you read poems aloud to yourself, it’s so much easier to understand. I’ve always felt that the voice gives life to the poetry. 

T — Talking about reading poems aloud, you do a lot of public speaking, so how do you use your voice and how does your communication change when you are on stage? 

E — I’ve become very comfortable speaking in public. Sometimes I get up on stage with no notes at all and just talk, but it took a long time to get there. Occasionally, I would do that in Italy, but I feel that my Italian is not literary enough. I love the Italian language. First of all, it’s a language for poetry and opera because there are so many rhymes. My very favorite is Don Giovanni. Some of my books I put Don Giovanni and listen to it while writing. 

D — I’d like to know what you think about podcasting? 

E — People go around with their headsets and experience you through your voice. I think it’s a very interesting medium. 

T — Coming towards the end of our conversation, I really want to thank you for the kind generosity with which you shared your story. So now what’s next for you after the publishing of ‘The World Began with Yes? 

E — I’ve just written an autobiography called “Selfie”. It’s like a self-portrait. 

About ‘The World Began with Yes’ – Il mondo è cominciato con un sì

Erica Jong has never stopped writing poetry. It was her first love and it has provided inspiration for all her other books. In a dark time, she celebrates life. Her title comes from the Brazilian genius Clarice Lispector who was deeply in love with life despite many tragedies. Life challenges us to celebrate even when our very existence is threatened. Never have we needed poetry more. Jong believes that the poet sees the world in a grain of sand and eternity in a wildflower—as Blake wrote. Her work has always stressed the importance of the lives of women, women’s creativity, and self-confidence. She sees her role as a writer as inspiring future poets to come. 

For more info on Erica Jong please click here: www.ericajong.com